Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a pedestrian's manifesto


Some months ago I updated my status on the old facebook to say something like, "april is a bold pedestrian" (third person updates are nigh obsolete now, but my fb pals should understand what i'm referring to, yes?) and what did that even mean, anyhow?

Well, here's the thing. I believe in walking. A lot. I believe that there are too many cars on the road and if every person who, technically, *could* drive didn't. . . as often as possible, that would only be better for everyone. We have lived in very walkable places and in a metropolitan area where the only walking most people (including ourselves) did was from the front door to the car. Which is to say, I am familiar with undue conditions and constraints upon ideals. But I still think most people (including myself) do not walk enough. We are a lazy people. Anybody reading this right now grew up in an era of cheap fossil fuels and so, of course, we default to that machine power to move us. It's fast. It's convenient. I get it.

We picked this house of ours because it was within walking distance of a lot of places we would frequent (library, park, natural foods store, book store, etc.) and we really do walk to those places frequently. Sometimes we just walk to buy a newspaper or sometimes we walk just to walk (and look in houses at dusk, because no one's jumped up and closed curtains yet, wait. is that just me?) but always, we walk. We walk in the rain and the wind and the sun and the snow. Do we ever push the leaving envelope too late and have to take the car instead? Absolutely. Am I ever cold and crabby and don't want to switch my comfy clogs for rain boots and opt, then, to drive? Yes. The car is a safety net and I sure depend on it. But our goal is to walk often and we really, really do.

The problem is, unsurprisingly, drivers. We live in a car culture. In a little automotive bubble, drivers can pretend not to notice that walkers are trying to cross the street. But, see, per Oregon law (what are the rules in your state?) EVERY INTERSECTION IS A CROSS-WALK, marked or not marked. (Go ahead, look it up. I found our driver's manual online.) And you know what pedestrian's have in a cross walk? The fricking right of way. And you know what this pedestrian does with that right? She fucking embraces it. (so much for obsolete third person usage and, also, any attempt to quell any sailor language).

This is one of my hot buttons, can you tell? And I didn't really move here to become some kind of champion for Pedestrian Rights, but every single damn time I walk anywhere, I see such knuckleheaded stuff on the road, it's a role I've taken on, by default.

This is what I believe about walking:

I believe pedestrians should NOT wait for cars to stop
. Say what? I am watchful, aware. I step out into the street and, if traffic is approaching, I raise my hand in a STOP! motion. Do I step directly in front of fast moving vehicles? No way. But, keep in mind, all of the streets I frequent have a speed limit of 25. Twenty-five! Any car going 25 should have no trouble stopping for a crossing pedestrian. (do most cars drive 25? nope.) If a car is in the intersection as I approach, I pause, wait. I am not stupid. I don't expect appropriate, rule-following vehicles to have to slam on their brakes for me. I don't move my body fully into the street until any oncoming car has stopped. But I do step out with purpose.

I believe a pedestrian should never, ever apologize for walking. I can't tell you how it pains me to see walkers give cars that little wave of apology as they cross the street. You know that embarrassed little "I'll be out of your way in just a second, hold on, I'm sorry" waving shrug? There's no place for that! I don't care if the Car still reigns supreme. It's NOT SUPREME! See, the law on my side, above. And also, the writing on the walls. I am not advocating a bird flip toward every motorist, no. But, don't apologize! If you're behind the wheel do you wave a thanks for stopping! wave when a car in the opposite lane stops at a four-way? No. If I'm walking and a car stops (correctly, appropriately) for me *without* me having to step first into the street and raise my hand and employ my menacing "i've got my eyes on you" gesture (ok, so maybe more hilarious than menacing, but since i'm not going to marry into the mob anytime soon, i don't have a lot of chances to look like i mean business and mean it), I will give a quick wave of acknowledgment. But this is not an apologetic wave. This is not a thank you wave. Wait. Let's stop here a second. NO THANKS ARE REQUIRED! Pedestrians HAVE the right of way, rememeber? Thanking motorists for stopping is like thanking, when you're behind the wheel, other cars at red lights. So I give a wave of acknowledgment. I see you stopped there, I'm proceeding ahead, ok. I might even make eye contact and smile! (A topic for another day: how I make a lot of eye contact and smile a lot and how, it seems, most people in the world do not.) But I WILL NOT apologize. I will not thank you for pausing (for what? three fucking seconds?!) for me. I will not hasten my step and run across the street. let's make another paragraph for that one, shall we?

I believe pedestrians should never run across the street. I tell this one to my children, often. Not so much the big one anymore, but the little one, yeah. He holds my hand as we walk all over town and our whole erroneous Bigger! Better! Faster! More! society penetrates his self conscious and he understands, despite my indoctrination, that it's all about the car here. He can't help but feel spooked in the middle of the road. And I understand the urge to start running. Don't run! I tell him. Keep walking at your regular pace. Don't stop for pebbles, don't rearrange the bag on your shoulder, don't scratch your ankle, keep walking. But don't, don't, don't run. For one, how long does it take a person to walk across the street? Even crossing 4 lanes, it would be, what? Seven seconds? Trivial. Cars can wait. And for two, the last thing you need to do in the middle of an intersection is trip and fall and running is more likely to result in falling. Don't run. Just keep walking. And don't ever, ever swing your arms and bounce a little in that "look-at-me-hustling-out-of-your-way-so-fast" fake walking run thing. It's your intersection. Walk across it like you're supposed to be there.

So if you're a pedestrian, too (and if you're not, why not? if your destination is within a couple of miles, I encourage you to use your feet before your fossil fuel), you should also be so bold. And if we all were so bold, pretty soon, it wouldn't be bold at all. It would be common and understood, "this is how we share the road." And that would be beautiful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

martinmas and armistice


Two things to remember: those who served and the light within us all. If legend is true, Martin was a Roman Soldier and surely you have read enough history to know the atrocities committed by Roman soldiers, yes? And yet, his kindness made him a saint. War is horrible. I believe in peace. I have marched for peace and voted for peace and I practice peace toward my children. Blessed are the Peacemakers. But life is complicated. And war is not the reason people join the military. Drafts aside, it's about health care and education and consistency and opportunity. And I recognize the light, the basic human light of Creation and Being and Progress, within all of the service people, past and present, in our country. Our philosophies may differ, but our hopes are probably eerily the same. We're all just people here.

Per the waldorfy tradition, the children and I made Martinmas Lanterns the other day. It had been a while since we've done the old tissue paper scraps on jar technique, so we were due. Our tissue paper supply was paltry, so I dipped into the thin wax paper (like for window stars, you know?) instead. Add some peanut butter jars and some mod podge (plus a few particularly placed fall leaves, for flair) and you've got yourself a sweet little candleholder. We wrapped wire around the rim to make a handle and secured them onto sturdy sticks for carrying.

After a lantern walk at the park (we met up with other folks), we came home and stuck them into the large clay pot that sits on our hearth. The tiny lanterns + the fire were our only living room lights this evening.

at rest by the fire

Monday, November 09, 2009

the upside to the downside

those three

We're past the point of grumbling about it, but, yes, if you're wondering, we're still affected by the mister's job loss. When a family loses their only source of income and that family is already pretty broke (by that I mean, zero savings plus a hefty mortgage, to boot) it's grumble-worthy. But it's not just us. Joblessness is widespread and if you don't know someone who is unemployed and struggling, then maybe you should get out more. We're scrabbling.

There is a new business endeavor. Have you heard? Starting a new business when a heap of bills are late and things like Foreclosure have become actual possibilities might be foolish. But what else can you do?

So, while we're in the middle space between jumping off the cliff and either hitting the ground, hard, or, miraculously, somehow, taking flight, I thought I'd mention the flip side to unemployment, the good parts of what is mostly a very, very difficult thing to experience.

Let me back up a bit and set the scene: there was the difficult relocation (a wanted return to oregon, but the circumstances were trying), a painful pregnancy loss with complications and medical bills, and then, interwoven in all that trouble: my husband's job which pretty much sucked donkey balls. (that's the most polite way I can describe it.)

So even with all the extra stress unemployement (like lack of income and losing insurance), I can't deny that there have been some really wonderful perks.

I think my husband's old job was close to destroying my family. I would like to tot up a list of specifics here, but I'm trying to be vague. Trust me when I tell you that the working environment was very much not good. And my husband? He is not a complainer. He does not shirk. And nothing he ever did was good enough for those people. He put in such long days and gave them so much and it was never enough. (it is seriously hard to keep from spilling the details.)

So, for starters, we see my guy a lot more. He often didn't come home until the children, at least the little one anyhow, were asleep. He left before we were up in the morning. And now he is here. He reads the bedtime books to the boy and he watches library Doctor Who dvds with the girl and he eats breakfast with us and dinner, too. He is a part. As he should be. As he always was before, but his previous employment made impossible.

Our garden this year was bigger and better than the year before because he was around so much more.

He has had the time, since this past Spring, to work weekly at our friends' farm. This has been so tremendous, I can't even tell you. We get vegetables in trade for his labor, but we're really getting so much more. When the mister was working a zillion hours a week for micro-managing brickheads (again, severely censored. believe it.), he didn't have the time to get to know people he'd like to know here locally. This farm working arrangement was a step in that direction. He likes our farmer friend so much and also loves working. My guy loves being outside doing hard work. He has learned, a little, about small scale farming and is re-inspired about our convictions about food and supporting a local economy. It's given him a connection to things that matter. This never would have happened if he were still bogged down by his old awful job.

Our house is better off. He is handy and likes fixing and improving things but everything went to the old nasty job and there wasn't a lot left over. He's been able to do some repairs and such that he never had time to think about before.

So, really, what this all comes down to is how good it is to have time, to be the master of our own schedules again. He picks up odd jobs where he can and is trying, trying to get the new business going and will always adhere to any associated obligations without a fuss. And not all jobs suck the life right out of an employee, but man, that one nearly did us in. He gave so much to people who didn't appreciate it, and had very little left to give us, the ones he's working so hard for in the first place.

I don't know how we'll make it work. It's shame that, even in these tenuous economic times, someone so capable and clever and strong (like an ox!) could be jobless. Worry still hangs over us and clogs our plans; I sure hope we again see some kind of financial stability. Who knows what lies ahead of us. But in the meantime, it's all so much more manageable within the context of a healthy, intact family.

everything is golden

red golden

We've been here, in this house, for just over 2 years now. What that means is that we're beginning to cycle through our THIRD holiday season in the same home. I have celebrated observed 3 of my birthdays in this house. We've had 3 Halloweens here. We're approaching our third Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas, New Year's, etc in the same place.

We are breaking all previous records.

And yet, my daughter still identifies as someone who moves a lot. Two years are not enough to salve the sores from a disastrous relocation, not when the trouble came fast on the heels of a lot of other hasty moves and stressful temporary situations. Anyone who has had to scramble for housing last minute should know this stress. But doing it again and again and again has left a shadow, a spook, an inability to breathe deeply without worrying when it will happen again.

I have a hard time accepting that this is it. Part of me is so accustomed to the transition, the perpetual packing and unpacking and settling in that we've done (thirteen addresses in as many years!) that I crave change as much as I appreciate and cherish the consistency of staying put.

Actually, I don't want to move again. I want to see all the blueberry bushes we planted last year grow. I want to finally collect enough salvaged bricks to make a patio in the front yard. I want to figure out how to best sneak a little flock of chickens into the backyard. I want to be here. Starting over again requires too much energy, loses too much time.

But I want to stop feeling like we're in the wrong place. Self identified city mice who thought about choosing a rural home and ended up here, in town, instead. I like being in the city. I like walking everywhere and seeing the hum and rush. I like the busyness and the brightness. And we have some of that here. Our town is very sweet, photogenic and charming. But we are far from the city. And we are confined to town restrictions, zoning and space and the squelch of too-near neighbors who are anything but simpatico souls. So in-between. Not the city. Not the land.

We expedited the purchase of this home because our living situation was so bleak. Our family was in the darkest times. And the job that caused us to move here is no more. I feel like I chose the best from what was available, but the rules of the game have changed since then and now I'm stuck trying to make it work.

I tell her that you never know. That anything can change in a blink. And that's the truth. But is no guarantee. She can't be the only 11-ish year old girl right here who likes to climb trees and pretend and whittle spears out of sticks with sharp knives and notice the plant life on walks and make up dramatic hairstyles and draw for hours and play Irish music so loudly. And maybe such a kindred soul will materialize suddenly soon.

This is not the dress rehearsal. This is not practice. This is my children's childhood. And it is so dear and joyful. We share so much gladness and we all of us have so very much for which to be grateful. But it's hard to reconcile that it's all going by so quickly and it's all so different than what I wanted it to be like.

My daughter will not ever have close, in age or proximity, siblings or cousins. She won't ever have close friends she's known her whole life, kids she's grown up with and knows well. The lonesomeness of her days continues to tear me up.

I wish I could give both of my children a steady group, a trusted pack of folks who have always been and will always be there. But I can't.

So I give them countless hours of reading aloud and Sunday night pizza and obnoxious operatic improv songs and muffins. I bake a lot of muffins. It's not enough.

The little traditions and routines I make up out of nothing are the smallest tokens I can offer, paltry talismans to conjure a decent childhood. I am inadequate. I would like to share this burden. Not just with their father (for, of course, he is here, participating every day), but with other people.

I love this time of year. I despise this time of year. The coziness of being inside more, the dread of doing it all again and not being able to hitch a ride, even for a moment, on someone else's momentum. It's the same old dreary story. Which is not to say we're a dreary bunch! But most of our days, regular days and special days, are spent just the four of us. Sweet. But a little sad, frankly.

I don't know how to escape the taunting thoughts that if we lived in the city, we'd have so much more to choose from. If not relevant community, then, certainly more distraction. Or if we were in the country, acreage and animals and all of that, we'd be so busy we wouldn't have time for discontent. I am tired of needing distraction. I want to sit in the middle of everything I have and like what I see.

I must reign in my visibility. Stop thinking about the big picture everyone's always talking about. Focus on the little picture. Everything is golden. The leaves and the light and the Promise I see in my children. We will have our quiet holidays, we will keep our simple days.

I cannot do better than I can do.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

passive aggressive kitchen witchery

It wasn't quite Necessity is the Mother of Invention here this morning, because Coffee isn't exactly a need, is it? And I didn't invent pan roasting beans. And back up the truck here, I'm not even the coffee drinker. Oh, I drink it when it's hot and ready and I'm too impatient to boil water for tea, and maybe I'll admit to the occasional chain soy latte indulgence (sorry, local little guys. your lattes blow) but since I'm not a moderate individual, I can flail right into racing heartbeat and shaky hand and grinding jaw territory and so it's just better if I abstain as much as possible. So it was in deference to the mister's caffeine dependence and my recognition of our sparse pantry that made me pull that ziploc baggy of green beans out of a drawer.

My friend The Tardy Homemaker roasts her own coffee and it is smooth and delicious (I never pass up a cup at someone else's house. reference: the aforementioned Not Moderate confession. if it's offered, i'll drink it, pretty much, yup.) and I must have made grunts about wanting to do the same (because, hello? pennies on the dollar, practically, for organic fair trade) and she gifted me a pound of green beans once when she purchased in bulk. She uses an old air popper for coffee roasting and this was my intent, as well. Surely you know about my thrift store habit. For as often as I'm there, I could be creepily stalking the old volunteer ladies at the St Vincent de Paul, but no, it's ric rac aprons and old school readers and sturdy spatulas I seek. And in all the many, many visits I've made to secondhand establishments since I've had a pound of green coffee beans in my possession, how many old air poppers do you think I have found? Not one. I have an air popper in my kitchen, use it frequently, actually. But it's the newer fangled sort made of thin plastic which will allegedly melt in the time it takes to roast a pound. So I reserve it for popcorn only and keep looking for an older one.

Which is all well and good until we wake up one cold frosty morning (frost two days in a row. hey, november, you mean business.) and I'm up and starting breakfast and feeling mightily disgruntled at the mister who is still in bed. For the record, if you are married to me and I send your grumpy ass to bed at 8:30, what that really means is that I am looking forward to you being the first one up in the morning, so that the house is awake and cheerful and the blinds are open and all of that when I get out of bed. And when that doesn't happen, when I am the last one to bed, by several hours, and then, by default, have to be the first parent up and about, I will probably growl at you and stomp down the hallway, sleepy and mad-like. But, for all the grumbling and cursing, I knew the longer he stayed in bed the madder I'd get and the best way to get him up is to get the coffee started. So.

I've heard that it can be done like this and I have roasted my share of nuts in a cast iron pan, so how about coffee? Three cheers for trying, anyway, and I have a canister full of Irish Breakfast so it's not like I'd be missing anything.

Here are what the beans looked like when I put then in the pan:

green beans
(one of these days I'll buckle down for real and figure out how to take a decent picture in a dim kitchen at 7 something in the morning)

I started them at 350 but they hadn't made much progress at all in ten, fifteen minutes, so I notched it up to 400ish. I think I left them in about 20 minutes after that. By that time the husband was up and dressed and bewildered about the smokey coffee scented haze in the house. It wasn't hot coffee that enticed him upright, but I think I smoked him out of bed. It would be easier to leave a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan on a hot burner next time. I'll remember. I did reach in and give the beans a stir a few times. I think, really, I took them out too soon. But, at that point, it had already taken longer than I thought it should have and I was done and the kettle was on and the press was clean and I just called it good enough.

They looked like this when I took them out:

roasted beans
(notice that I yawned and turned the camera to auto, flash and all. photography, what?)

We might not agree on bedtimes or wake up times or the most acceptable dispositions to share with the people in your household, but we both like our coffee beans dark and oily. These were on the light side and still rather dry-ish. The oils were just starting to come out when I blew the whistle on the whole experiment. However, maybe because the beans were so freshly roasted, who knows, the resulting coffee was excellent.

I drank more than my share (he hates it when I drink coffee in the a.m. because there's none remaining to pour into his thermos when he leaves and he knows it's not like I'm so discriminating, anyway, I'll still load up on tea all day) and he complimented the brew more than once, which is a lot more than usual.

Is this going to be a thing around here now? I don't think I'm ready to promote it to Regular from In A Pinch, but at least I know now it's easy enough.

(but not as easy as tea.)

Monday, November 02, 2009

take a hottie to bed

A little middle of the night motherly nursing last night prompted me to dig out and fill up the old hot water bottle. It was the best idea I had to help soothe my girl's very bad stomachache. She was hurting enough to wake me, which, for her, means quite a lot. She is the buck up and tell me about it later sort, and not usually so much for getting out of bed at 4 in the morning to tell her mama that she's sick.

I always forget about the hot water bottle until we have some sort of acute sickness. Although, regrettably, I forgot about it completely when I had my recent bout with illness. But since the weather shifted and there's often a cold snap to the air in our house (I'd rather bundle up a little, anyhow, than be too warm and it sure costs less to keep the heaters all off as much as possible) I have been thinking that I should invest in hot water bottles for the whole family. I rely pretty regularly on my husband's hot bloodedness to warm my cold sleepy toes, but he isn't always amenable and, well, I cannot reciprocate (I'm always cold!) and, also, think of the children!

I actually have a hot water bottle on the running gift idea list (because the proverbial corner is approaching and you know what's just around it) for my girl, but since she requested a fill up tonight, she might usurp the bathroom cabinet old stand-by before I acquire a new one just for her. She said it kept her warm all morning.

Googling just now revealed to me that the hot water bottle we have, what I thought was just a regular old modern day drugstore specimen, is really a vintage 50s jobbie. I bought it for $0.50 at a Phoenix Goodwill about 4 years ago. So we haven't even had it all that long. I always thought I imagined the faint whiff of roses and old man inside of it, but if it's really sixty years old, such a combination is probably possible. I wanted to get a few others just like it, it's so thick-walled and sturdy and the spout screws on tightly (it's called a Kantleek, by Rexall, and that sure seems to be true) and it keeps water hot for hours, but I don't think they make them quite like this one anymore.

More googling pulled up this article now I think I'll start calling ours a Hottie, too.

Energy efficiency + personal comfort were the reasons I wanted to get more anyway. Having a radiating ball of warm in your bed just makes sense. I toss ours into an extra pillowcase and wrap it up a few times, but a wooly cover would be better, perhaps, for heat retention and softness. But, still, it didn't really occur to me until I read that article that hot water bottles should be a standard. Like re-usable grocery bags and recycling! Has there been a hot water bottle resurgence when I wasn't looking? Because while I find lots of bottle and covers and cozies for sale (etsy and ebay and various and sundry other sellers), it certainly doesn't seem like a movement or anything. Not yet, anyway!

Do you take a hottie to bed?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

too much candy

Even though I am, legendarily, earnestly, a bonafide Halloween Grinch (candy! kids! bah!), I admit to having had a really great time this year. Wait, didn't I say the same thing *last* year, too? I believe I did. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em or some such like that. Almost anything is a good time with friends and a few nips of strong hooch. Yes?

The thing is: we don't eat candy. So there's a tin of suckers on my fridge, sure. The health food store sort with regular sugar and no artificial crap and that's just the way we roll around here. And unless they're the best full time always on actors ever in the whole world, my children don't feel left out or less than or different. They enjoyed the thrill of tromping around town after dark, ringing doorbells and that whole schtick, but the candy thing isn't really the thing at all. I don't have to cajole them not to eat too much or sneak it away or let them gorge and crash and burn and hope it's all over soon. Because it is a non-issue. One or two pieces, maybe, but that's it. And that's why my first reaction is to shrug and then avoid an event that's really all about junky candy. But for what other reason would I be compelled to pull a zebra print skirt and bright orange high heels out of my closet? Dressing up is just good fun. It's a shame we do it so infrequently, really.

Even without the damage of post-sugar high here at our house, tonight was rough. Time change, I guess. Never a cuter orange lego has ever existed than my boy in his last minute costume last night. But for all his adorableness (where did so much cute come from? I don't even know!), he was up so late, for an early-to-bed sort of boy. And we jollied him along on a very far afternoon walk today; such a long way for tired little legs. My girl was the intense one, exploding with feelings (happy! mad! all the feelings!) and we had many (many many many many) meltdowns and fall aparts and screaming-til-hoarse episodes when she was little, but with my boy, it's rare and I am rusty. I remind myself how scary it must feel to be a little person totally losing control and I hold firm and strong and kind and I repeat the mama mantras and I keep a respectable distance and when the facade cracks I swoop in to wipe tears and slice an orange and put on pajamas and give kisses and everything is smooth again before bed.

I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day for the first day of November. The house was chilly, kids and pets and the husband in and out, the doors opening and closing so much, and I wore a scarf all day. But it was bright (I grumbled about not having sunglasses on our walk) the leaves were crunchy and the sky was blue and I could not (ask the mister, go ahead) stop dancing. It felt like a dancing sort of day, just that clear and brilliant. And so we played a lot of dancing music around here today.

This is a perfect song for a dancing day on the day after Halloween. I like the Schoolhouse Rock-ish animation style and the theatrical sound and the frisky rabbits and Mama told me what I should know too much candy gonna rot your soul.